speaking up, truth to power

Speak Up to Disagree with Someone More Senior

Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to state your disagreement or take a stand with someone who’s in a high position than yours,  like your boss, board chair, or someone else in leadership? It’s tough because you want to respect the person and/or the position, and at the same time, send the message that you think they’ve got something really wrong. Disagreeing with those in power was seen as an important function even in medieval times to the degree  that it was institutionalized in the form of the court jester. The jester was the only person who could use humor to disagree with or point out the follies of a ruler.

In today’s world, when you want to take a stand, or state something that someone in power may not agree with, consider a few things before you do that, so you remain a credible, respectful team player.

1. Check Your Own Motivations

Make sure that your message is not about you, but is for the good of the organization or your team. This is key because when you work with others, the central objective is not about furthering your own agenda. Rather, it’s about keeping the work at the center of the discussion and doing what’s right in the best interest of the project, the team, or the company. When you act out of unselfish motivations, you will likely reap personal benefits in the long run because because you will be seen as someone who is credible and has honorable intentions.

2. Assume Good Intentions

Everyone has good intentions and so does your boss and other powerful people. You might disagree with an assumption, an approach, the way they have framed the issue, but assume the underlying objective or reason for their “take” is good. You just need to figure out what those underlying motivations are for this individual and acknowledge them.

3. Speak Up When Stated Principles and Values Are at Stake

It’s not worth it to speak up about every detail that you disagree with. Speaking up to disagree with someone in a higher position is warranted when you see a stated ideal at issue. As you speak up to address the issue, go to the root of your disagreement by referring back to a broad principle that is very important to the company or to that specific individual. Observe how their current position seems to be at odds with a deeply held principle, purpose, value, or behavioral norm. By highlighting where you see the rub with what they’re advocating, speaking up to disagree is based on a loftier ideal and not simply a difference of opinion.

4. Help Them Save Face

This is not about you putting your boss or other senior person “in their place”. This is about you simply speaking up in a way that helps them to see the deeper issue that you’re trying to highlight. To avoid making their viewpoint seem “wrong”, you can propose a different solution or alternative that aligns with the higher ideals and with their their concerns. When you disagree in this way, other with seniority are more likely to listen to you and see you as someone who speaks up thoughtfully.

I can’t guarantee that everything will work out every time, but when you do seek to speak up to disagree with those more senior than you in this way, you remain respectful, maintain your credibility, and will be seen as a “team player”.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater presence and composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Take her 5-minute Leadership Impact quiz at https://assess.coach/firebrandconsulting to discover how you might be holding yourself back.

Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

team psychological safety adaptive leadership

How Uncertainty and Conflict Lead to Innovation and Creativity

Did you know that teams rated as the “best” make more mistakes (not fewer) than others? How come? Because the better teams that make more mistakes DISCUSS them. When they do this, they can work together to reduce them. In short, these “better” teams operate in an environment of “psychological safety”.

According to Harvard Business School professor and researcher, Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is the “belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

In contrast to a work environment the emphasizes only accountability to produce results, an environment of psychological safety is one that:

• Appreciates diverse perspectives and encourages disagreement instead of assuming there is one correct perspective or answer.
• Allows team members to admit what is unknown, uncomfortable, or uncertain. It is not a trendy “safe space” designed to shelter team members from things they don’t agree with.
• Focuses on experimentation to find ways to address current challenge. To this end, it encourages appropriate risk and allows mistakes.
• Approaches challenges as a system instead of looking for one thing or individual to blame.
• Allows for imperfection and encourages acknowledging personal fallibility and flaws without encouraging unproductive, dysfunctional behavior.

Through her research, Edmondson identified 3 leadership behaviors that help create psychological safety:

1. A Learning Framework.

Work is framed as a learning problem; not an execution problem.  This is accomplished, in part, by acknowledging uncertainty and interdependence. In this way, the team knows it’s OK to encounter fits, starts, detours, and failure before it arrives at an end result.

2. Lean in to Vulnerability and Flaws.

As a leader, when you acknowledge your own fallibility, you emphasize the need for all to speak up and add their perspectives. You can say things, like, “I’m curious to know how you see this.” or “What am I missing here?”

3. Model Curiosity.

Ask lots of questions to show the team how to speak up to get the information they need without being afraid to look less than competent.

For your part, creating psychological safety means that you as a leader must manage your emotions and reactivity. You might think you’re modeling curiosity to encourage participation in a discussion. However, if you get visibly upset at what your team’s input, you’ll undermine psychological safety.

In conclusion, when you create psychological safety with your team, you create an environment that taps into the human element of work instead of treating them as simple cogs in a machine. When coupled with high accountability for results, psychological safety helps you create a learning team that constantly adapts to challenges. In this way, your team has the best chance of expressing its full potential. And that leads to more innovation and creativity in your organization.

Learn more about Amy Edmondson’s research and how to create psychological safety in your organization with her book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety or her TedX Talk.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater presence and composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

new growth

Stop Distractions By Going Back to Your Purpose

With all the distractions in today’s world, it’s easy for your focus to blur and boundaries around your time to erode. Devices, apps, and social media comprise the main technological distractions, with open offices and co-workers creating distractions as well. All told, it’s estimated that you are distracted from your work approximately 2 hours per day!

Additionally, you can create your own distractions. You might want to be (overly) helpful to others and be seen as a team player, so before you know it, you go out of your way and spend time on activities that are not about what is important to you/your team. It is also easy to distract yourself from the things you don’t want to do or don’t feel confident about doing. Moreover, simply the day-to-day busy-ness of life and work can pull you away from the important things to what’s urgent.

Go Back to Purpose

To re-orient yourself, go back to purpose. It seems odd that something as general as “purpose” can create more targeted focus. However, the reason you become unfocused is you lose sight of where you’re headed and the reason for all of your activity. And that reason your doing the work you’re doing comes from a larger purpose. Your personal purpose, the company’s purpose, or the purpose of an initiative can put things into perspective and allow you to re-dedicate yourself to focusing on what matters.

To that point, purpose is what you believe in. It’s “why” you do what you do. For example, at work, you might be leading a team to implement a piece of the company’s strategic plan. What’s the purpose of that plan – why is it important to the company and how does that “why” translate to the work done by your team?

Use Purpose to Re-Commit and Re-Focus Others

Simply re-stating the purpose is a great way to re-focus yourself and others. Even if your colleagues or direct reports disagree about the current work tasks, they will most likely agree on what the purpose is. Starting from this area of general agreement, you can then facilitate a meaningful discussion about what the most relevant daily and weekly activities should be. And this allows a re-alignment of focus. In general, go to the general ideals, like purpose, to re-align yourself and others when things get stuck or discombobulated.

Use Your Purpose to Focus Your Attention

Whether personal or work-related, check to see whether your time and energy is aligned to purpose. Look at how you spend your time over the course of a week (longer if you can). Can you see the connection between your purpose(s) and the activities you spend your time on and people you spend your time with? (Don’t expect that 100% of your time is tied to directly to purpose – you’re doing well if there’s a connection between a larger relevant purpose and at least 25% of your time.)

If it’s not evident what is important to you after examining how you spend your time and energy, it’s time to go back to your purpose and rededicate yourself to behaviors and activities that reflect it and further it. The next time you feel your focus waning or the boundaries around your time getting fuzzy, prioritize your weekly focus by aligning it with your purpose.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

anxiety types

Is Your Influence Recognized and Rewarded in Your Company Culture?

Which leadership behaviors are reinforced in your company? In particular, does your company culture recognize and reward behaviors you would describe as more “masculine” or those you would describe as more “feminine”? And maybe it’s a balanced blend of both.

Male and Female Brains

To set the stage, not all women exhibit 100 % feminine thinking, speech, or behavior. Not all men, have completely male mannerisms, behaviors, or thought and speech patterns. Each of us is our own unique combination of masculine and feminine traits. However, current brain research shows that most women tend to have more female brains, while men tend to have more male brains. Brain structure and functioning is also influence by gender-related hormones of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, oxytocin, etc. And because of that most women show a propensity for more “feminine” ways of operating, and most men exhibit more “masculine” modus operandi. The culture in which you were raised adds a layer of gender-based expectations.

This makes it interesting to look at the kinds of behaviors your organization tends to reinforce. If you’re a woman in the workplace you know this ground quite well. Even though most workplaces today are roughly 50/50, male/female, most corporate cultures in the US are still very male-oriented. Thus, it is commonplace that your thinking, speaking, and other behaviors are misinterpreted by the corporate culture and the men around you. Because of this, the way women interact within their companies is interpreted and explained away through a male lens. In fact, more and more research shows unconscious bias in companies adversely affects, not only people of color, but also women, especially when it comes to promoting individuals into leadership positions.

For example, the leadership model has been shifting over the past couple of decades from using mostly hierarchical authority towards more egalitarian influence. This seems great for most women because the female brain tends to seek out complex and robust relationships. Most women want to create good relationships in the workplace. Once they foster relationships, they also work to maintain those relationships and keep them intact. On the other hand, the male brain is wired to prove prowess and strength. So, so men tend to be more aggressive and competitive, looking for ways that they can prove themselves.

Relationships Versus Competition

Apply this to one area of being successful in most companies: showing your success by stating your accomplishments. This often comes up in performance reviews. Because women generally seek to maintain relationships, they will tend not to brag about their accomplishments for a couple of reasons. First, if you’re a woman, you don’t want to appear as though you’re better than other people because you’re trying to relate to others without positioning yourself as “better”. Second, you realize that other people contributed to your success. Third, if you have to brag about what you accomplished, it diminishes any recognition you received for your feat.

Conversely, men aren’t defining themselves primarily by their bonding and relationship skills. Rather, if you’re a man, you compete to the best most accomplished or best performer. That’s why most men don’t have a problem bragging about their accomplishments. In fact, it’s important that they call attention to their abilities. Consequently, men generally can more easily talk about their wins.

Collaboration and Influence

Another area where your influence and might be missed is through collaboration. Masculine versus feminine notions of “collaboration” can look different. Women will ask others to participate in projects or decisions. As a woman, you may hold off landing on an answer to a challenge and gather a lot of input from others up front. Not only do you value the connection with the people, but you might be looking for a lot of different perspectives or ideas that about the challenge. This inductive thinking is about gathering more ideas for a better solution. In contrast, male collaboration comes from a competitive competence angle. If you’re a man, collaborating with others is a way to test out your ideas and see how well they measure up. With this more deductive style of thinking, you start with your idea and see how well it stands up to challenges from others.

How have your behaviors been perceived through the lens of your company culture? How are you perceived by various factions within your company culture? What are the implications for you and your leadership?

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

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head in the sand; appease

How to Know If You Are an Appeaser

An Appeaser is the opposite of the Micromanager I wrote about previously in How to Know If Your Are a Micromanager. True micromanagers get a bad rap and deservedly so. However, if you’re an Appeaser, your leadership style is just as ineffective and can cause low team morale.

The Appeaser’s Narrative

If you’re an Appeaser, you seek “peace” and stability over achieving desired results in a timely manner. Consequently, you often keep your “head in the sand”. The story you tell yourself is that it’s your job to make sure everyone gets along. Also, you don’t go looking for trouble. You like to believe that if you don’t see problems, they don’t exist. Thus, you stay out of things as much as possible and allow your team to monitor themselves. No news is good news, so if you don’t hear anything negative, you assume your team knows what to do and will get things done. Accordingly, you don’t check in or follow up on their progress.

Appeaser Behaviors

Appeaser will often:

  • Allow team members to operate on their own assumptions about their roles and responsibilities to remain under the belief that things are all right.
  • Rely almost completely on team’s ability to self-organize while setting few if any parameters.
  • Disregard being explicit about purpose, objectives, values, norms, or system parameters.
  • Avoid following up on progress for fear of walking into problems you don’t want to face.
  • Avoid conflict to avert negative reactions from others.
  • Resolve individual complaints to give the complainant what they want for the sake of peace in the moment, without considering implications of the decision to the team or larger group.
Results of Appeasement

As an Appeaser, other may see you as warm and kind; however, you may create more disruption than you think as you pursue your idea of peace because . . . .

  • Work is stymied and the team is less effective than it could be.
  • Team members are often stuck in “limbo” waiting for things to move forward before they can take their work to the next level.
  • Team members are put in the awkward spot of explaining to those outside the team why things aren’t moving forward or why issues aren’t addressed.
  • You undermine group cohesion by granting too many individual exceptions to standard policy and procedure.
Shifting from Appeaser to Leader

If you see yourself as an Appeaser, you can shift to a more balanced leadership approach by seeing yourself more like a Steward of the work. When you do this, you learn to place the work at the center of every decision you make instead of having “peace”. You will find yourself facilitating discussions to get everyone on the same page regarding purpose and norms. You’ll put conditions in place that allow for robust discussions to hash out topics that might have been too unnerving for you previously. In short, you will move from Appeaser to Leader.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

How to Know If You Are a Micromanager

micromanaging, adult assignmentWhen you lead other people, there is no shortage of learning opportunities. After all, humans are varied and complicated, and circumstances change constantly. Factor in into the mix your own strengths, vulnerabilities, and triggers, and things get really interesting. This is the reason many of my clients aren’t clear about how to follow up and follow through with direct reports without overstepping.

It’s true that a few employees will accuse even the best leaders of micromanaging, often as a way to avoid accountability for their lack of capability or ownership of the work. Sometimes, the leader’s gender influences how much or how little direction the employee is willing to accept. Additionally, the company culture influences the extent to which these complaints are taken seriously.

In general, however, true micromanaging goes beyond typical managerial follow up and follow through. The critical distinction is the MANNER in which you get your team to accomplish the work. This, in turn, hinges on how you see yourself – your IDENTITY.

Here are a few key differences in how you know whether or not you’re micromanaging.

Micromanaging

You’re more likely to “micromanage” others when you see yourself at the center of the issues that come your way. In other words, your identity is that of a “fixer”. You believe the spotlight is on you to perform using your technical expertise, capabilities, and performance. In other words, you overly focus on the tasks to be done as opposed to attending to the interpersonal elements involved.

When you see yourself at the center of the work as the fixer, you might focus too much on your technical competence and on your position to get things done. Thus, you may:

  • Believe your technical knowledge and capabilities are superior to that of your team and are what make others want to be led by you.
  • Portray yourself as “right”, “strong” and/or “in charge”, exhibiting your strengths and hiding your vulnerabilities.
  • Expect respect you based on primarily your position.
  • Make decisions and insist on employees’ work being done your way without their input, even in non-urgent or emergency situations.

This way of seeing yourself, may lead you to:

  • Focus on the technical aspects of the work rarely if ever refer to the reason for the work and its impact to the team, customer, community, or company.
  • “Hover” and often jump in to do the work yourself because “it’s faster if I do it” or “they won’t do it right”.
  • Ignore putting in place systems and shared understandings of how to work together, so your follow up may seem haphazard or unpredictable and taken personally as blame.
  • Take it personally and/or look for who is to blame when things go wrong.
  • Surround yourself with others who reinforce your view of yourself as the most competent.
Leading Without Micromanaging

In contrast, you’re more likely to lead without micromanaging when you take the focus off of yourself and put it on the challenge, issue, or opportunity. Thus, you identify yourself as a “facilitator”.

Even with competent technical skills, you know that the “soft skills” of understanding and engaging people is key to mobilizing their abilities. You rely less on your formal authority and relate to others using more informal influence instead. You are more likely to:

  • Honor your strengths and own your vulnerabilities without trying to hide either.
  • See yourself as a resource for your team and as a steward of ideas and talent.
  • Hold yourself and direct reports accountable for deviations from purpose, values, objectives, and systems.
  • Stay with conflict and dissension within your team to channel it into productive discussion.
  • Give credit and take the blame.

Because you keep the work at the center of everyone’s attention, you most likely:

  • Value talent and seek those who complement your capabilities and add to the team’s capabilities to do the work.
  • Focus on creating conditions that grow and harness team capabilities to accomplish the work.
  • Spend time clarifying roles and responsibilities to make sure your team knows who owns the various aspects of the work.
  • State the purpose and objectives for tasks and projects to focus your team on what’s important to guide the work.
  • Get input from your team on what’s working and what’s not working.
  • Set up formal, systematic ways to follow up and check in with each other to make sure the work is on track and to address unexpected obstacles and accountability, to get other support, or to celebrate successes.
  • Approach some aspects of the work experimentally, addressing calculated risks, mistakes, and failures as learning opportunities.

Determining your manner of leading with accountability and without micromanaging is a like learning to balance use of the gas and the brakes. It’s an art and a science to know when to follow up for accountability and when to let someone continue down a path to learn from a potential failure. It starts with how you see yourself in your leadership role: fixer or facilitator. As with the gas and brakes, with practice, you’ll get the feel for what it’s like to lead without micromanaging.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

What Psyche Can Teach You About Being Authentic

vision, authentic, perspectiveIs it difficult for you to find the right balance between being task-focused and relationship-focused? Is it simply challenging to figure out how “nice” you need to be at work? Do you ever wonder what it really means to be a good team player?

If you’ve never had these dilemmas, you’re lucky. Read no further.

For the rest of you, making sense of the mixed messages you receive as a woman in the workplace can be distracting and down right maddening. Mixed feedback about how you’re supposed to act can make you hesitate and even hide behind an inauthentic persona. This can keep you from realizing your full potential or embracing your leadership role.

The timeless mythological story of Psyche’s Four Tasks provides guidance.

The Story of Eros and Psyche

Psyche, a beautiful mortal woman, fell in love with and married what turned out to be the god of love, Eros. He was the son of the goddess Aphrodite, who out of jealously of Psyche’s beauty, had initially jinxed Psyche so that she would not fall in love with any mortal man. The jinx backfired and much to Aphrodite’s chagrin, her immortal son Eros fell in love with Psyche and they married, with the caveat that Psyche could never actually look at him.

However, Psyche couldn’t help herself. She carried an oil lamp and a knife into his bedroom (in case he turned out to be a monster), and took a forbidden look at Eros while he was sleeping in the dark. Unfortunately, the lamp dripped hot oil on Eros and awakened him. Interpreting this as a sign of mistrust, Eros ran off and abandoned Psyche. Heart-broken, Psyche appealed to her disapproving mother-in-law Aphrodite for help to get him back.

Jealous Aphrodite saw an opportunity to be rid of Psyche once and for all. She devised four seemingly impossible tasks for Psyche to complete in order to get back Eros. Psyche’s 4 tasks provide guidance for illuminating a situation (the lamp), dissecting it, and cutting away what doesn’t serve you (the knife). Doing so, allow you to make a decision that is authentic for you in your home and work relationships.

Task #1 – Sorting Seeds with Discernment.

Aphrodite put Psyche in a room that was full of many varieties of seeds all mixed together and instructed Psyche to sort all of the seeds overnight if she wanted Eros back. Psyche was overwhelmed and didn’t know how she would to do it. Then, a line of tiny, diligent ants entered the room and began to sort the tiny seeds for her.

The lesson: A situation may seem daunting at first, but you must examine what you have to contend with. So, listen to the small, still voice inside (ants), then diligently sift and sort through all available information to decide what is important based on your priorities and values.

Task #2 – Nab Golden Fleece at the Right Time.

Aphrodite then assigned Psyche the task of collecting golden fleece from the nasty Rams of the Sun. Again, Psyche thought this task impossible because these rams were large, tough, no-nonsense, powerful creatures. Coming to her aid, a flexible green reed advised Psyche that she could avoid the rams by waiting until they left the field at the end of the day, then pick their fleece from brambles they brushed up against after they had gone for the day.

 The lesson: Be flexible enough to watch and wait for the opportune time to go after what you want. There may be a way to do accomplish what you want with less direct conflict, allowing you to maintain relationships.

Task #3 – Fill the Flask After Gaining Perspective.

Next, Psyche must fill a flask with water from an intimidating stream, guarded by dragons. While Psyche doubted her ability to fill the flask, Zeus’s eagle arrived, grabbed the flask, and flew to an opportune spot to fill it for her.

 The lesson: When you get overwhelmed with deciding how to engage with a situation and those involved, pull back like the eagle to get a broader perspective of the bigger picture to find patterns. Then, spot the salient details before making decisions.

Task #4 – Fetching Beauty Cream in the Underworld Without Distraction.

Finally, Aphrodite sent Psyche to the Underworld to refill a box with beauty ointment. To make things even more difficult, Aphrodite tells Psyche that three pathetically desperate people in the Underworld will beg her for help as a distraction from her quest. A tall tower advises Psyche to harden her heart, ignore them, and concentrate on fulfilling her task.

The lesson: You must keep your eye on your tasks and goals and learn to assert your boundaries by exercising a conscious choice to say “yes” or “no” to others’ requests.

Psyche completed the four tasks and won back her beloved Eros. Not all women need nor will they apply Psyche’s lessons in the same way. Still, when you face a dilemma at work or get confusing feedback that reflects someone else’s perspective on who you’re supposed to be, think of Psyche’s lessons and apply the one(s) that are apt in a way that is right for you.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG, OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it:  Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.